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DEFRA should prioritise payments to north’s farmers, says O’Neill

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has formally asked the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to prioritise payment of EU aid to the north’s dairy farmers.

After the EU Commission, last month, allocated an aid package worth £26million to this Member State, DEFRA announced that £5.1million would be directed to farmers in the north. The decision to allocate nearly one fifth of the package to our farmers was made after Minister O’Neill highlighted the unique and difficult circumstances facing our industry. In a letter to British Minister, George Eustice today, the Minister underlined this position again and urged him to prioritise payments to the north.

The Minister said: “I am anxious that payments are made as quickly as possible, without any knock on impact on processing Basic Payments. Given that our farmers in the north of Ireland are in greatest need of support, I want our farmers to be the first to receive their payments.”

DEFRA has indicated that payments would be made through the Rural Payments Agency to farmers in December.

The Minister added: “Making the payments through the Rural Payments Agency will remove the need to set up a separate process for the north of Ireland with all of the associated administration.

“However, I have asked the DEFRA Minister for further assurance on the timing of payments to farmers in the north.”

The north’s allocation will be directed to dairy farmers, as they have been the hardest hit by the prolonged decline in prices. It will be made available at a flat rate per litre of production.

The Minister is keen to make it clear that she remains focused on the challenges being faced right across the wider farming sector in the north and is committed to making Direct Payments to as many farmers as possible in December 2015.

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